NEW DELHI: What’s in a name? Apparently a lot as Indian brands, especially those in the services sector, will vouch for. A clutch of brands in food delivery, ride-sharing and telecommunications categories are facing mounting pressure from the cranky customers who discriminate against their employees on the basis of religion. Zomato, the food ordering app, found itself in a spot on Wednesday when a customer declined to accept food from a Muslim delivery person.
The incident that blew up on social media saw Zomato stand by its delivery boy even as the angry customer tweeted about not accepting meal from a non-Hindu and cancelled the order.
On its part, Zomato, however, tweeted that “Food doesn’t have a religion. It’s a religion’ and its founder Deepinder Goyal stood by the diversity in its company. What followed was a barrage of tweets both in support and against Zomato. Some accused the company of being double faced as it serves halal food on its platform. The incident lead to Zomato trending continuously on Twitter.
“I feel brands, especially large national ones, should not to fall prey to religious chauvinism," said Ambi M.G. Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com. “Criticism from customers should only be around the service and not on factors such as religious identity, caste or social background of their employees. Taking a strong on such an issue help brands to win customer loyalty and respect."
Unfortunately, Zomato’s recent face-off with a customer is not a solitary example of a spat in a country which is dealing with multiple incidents of religious and caste related polarisation.The angst against religious identity is seeping through the consumer economy especially in the services sector where human interaction is unavoidable.
Last year, an Airtel user refused to talk to a Muslim customer care executive and the social media handle of the telecom brand responded to the tweet assigning a Hindu executive. It took tweet shaming for Airtel to call out the user’s bigotry. That is not all. A Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) worker cancelled an Ola cab driven by a Muslim driver. Both the brands took a strong stand stating that they do not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste, creed or gender.
Shiv Visvanathan, professor at Jindal Global Law School, and director, centre for the study of knowledge systems, O.P. Jindal Global University feels that brands need ethics, not mere aesthetics. Zomato has set the trend, other corporations are set to follow.
“Today prejudice is legitimate in a majoritarian society. Minorities become stigma while majority become branded entities following purely pollution codes in service and housing sector," he said.
Interestingly, in another example of intolerance, a customer expressed her displeasure with Uber India refusing to take a cab which had a popular Hanuman poster which she referred to as a saffron symbol.
Visvanathan feels that nationalism and communalism have blended to create a unified identity branding the outsider outside and inside. “Being anti-muslim and patriotic has merged in this fundamentalist era," he added.
Social media, experts believe, further fuel such incidents as these platforms have the ability to virtually raise a storm. Rajiv Dhingra, founder and CEO of WATConsult, the digital and social media agency of Dentsu Aegis Network noted that social media gives an open platform for brands to call out bigotry and bias.
“I feel such incidents used to happen much more in the olden days but because of social media it is out in the open. The beauty of social media platforms is that it allows both the outrage as well as shutting down of any divisive behaviour. For every one user who refuses to take an order from Muslim executive there are thousand more people shaming that user from his/her religion on the platform," he added.